Liar, liar, pants on fire

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Stacy Innerst, Post-Gazette
George W. and Honest Abe -- They couldn't tell a lie. Yeah, right.
By Peter Leo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Your noses are getting bigger

Before we get started I have three things to say:

1. You all look great.

2. You're very special people.

3. Every one of you is a liar.

Which of my three statements is indisputably true, and not an obvious lie? That's correct, No. 3. And, believe me, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

That's 288 lies a day per person

Don't take my word for it. Robert Feldman is a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts who studies lying. He found that ordinary people tell about two lies every 10 minutes, The Washington Post reported, with some getting in as many as a dozen fibs in that time. (Notice I already got my two lies out of the way for this 10-minute time slot in Item 1.)

Actually, George could tell a lie

What a coincidence we should be talking about lying on Washington's Original Birthday. (Happy 275th, George.) When many of us were growing up we knew George as Father of Our Country, all right, but his big claim to fame was that He Could Not Tell a Lie. It seems a cherry tree got chopped down, and Li'l George fessed up. It would later turn out to be a tale concocted by the ever popular Parson Weems, who made a career of documenting bad information about Washington, according to Wikipedia. In other words, the parson spoke with forked tongue, as undoubtedly did George.

Parents hold up Washington and "Honest Abe" Lincoln as models of behavior, Feldman says, while schooling their children in dishonesty: Tell your grandmother you like the gift (even though you don't.) Tell Louie you didn't mean to hurt him (when you did.) Says Feldman: "Kids learn two messages: 'Always tell the truth,' and 'Not really.'"

Common lies

"I didn't do it."

"That sucker was 8 feet long!"

"As I was telling the Dalai Lama . . ."

"I'm 25, blonde and athletic."

"It doesn't look like a toupee at all."

"What an adorable baby!"

"That really looks good on you."

"I did not have sex with that woman."

Scooter's best defense

Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post on the "Scooter" Libby perjury trial: "Feldman's experiments show that stern-faced judicial proceedings about perjury are as remote from the realities of human behavior as President Bush is from the Nobel Peace Prize. For one thing, lying plays a more complex role in human relationships than the black-and-white legal view recognizes. It is also so commonplace in everyday life that putting people on trial for lying is somewhat like putting them on trial for breathing."

Invitations to lie

"Give me your honest opinion."

"Tell me the truth."

"How do I look?"

Parents and kids see things differently

Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, asked people to recall the worst lie they had ever told and the worst lie ever told to them. Many young people told of a parent who concealed news that someone they loved was sick or dying. By contrast, parents never thought of such deceptions as particularly serious ones. In fact, they saw them as acts of love.

Vive la difference

From the AP

Feldman says men do not lie more than women or vice versa, but men and women lie in different ways. Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better.

Speaking of which ...

Most surveys about sex find that men have had far more partners than women, typically two to four times as many. Uh, fellas, the math doesn't add up unless the women are inflatable. Psychologist Norman R. Brown of the University of Michigan keeps tabs on these polls, the latest a web-based survey of 2,065 heterosexual non-virgins with a median age in their late 40s. The women reported on average 8.6 sexual partners. The men claimed 31.9. Smelling a few rats, the researchers asked the participants to rate their truthfulness, reported. About 5 percent -- both men and women -- said they lied. In addition, more than 10 percent said they knew their answer wasn't accurate.

I tell you, it's enough to shake your faith in online surveys.

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